Coal or renewable energy
Which has the more promising future?
Tolerating the Intelligencer's Absurd Claims
Another week, another anti-Obama and anti-EPA Intelligencer editorial this time with an attack on alternative energy sources thrown in as a bonus.
Yesterday's "Tolerating EPA’s Absurd Claims" rounds-up the usual suspects in order to attack alternative energy sources. The problem, according to the Intelligencer, is that the alternative energy sources have been given "billions of dollars a year, with almost no strings attached" and now the Obama administration and the EPA claim that the coal industry is "the No. 1 threat to national security and must be driven out of business." As is usually the case, no evidence for either claim is provided. (I especially wanted to see when and where the President said that coal was the top threat to national security. Huh? That doesn't even make sense.)
The editorial would have you believe that poor old coal is out there having to compete with a heavily, government-subsidized industry. Is it facing unfair competition? My research found that that the combined total for all alternatives today is greater than that for coal but those subsidies pale in comparison to the subsidies that coal historically has received. For example, the fiscally conservative Taxpayers for Common Sense wrote in 2009:
Subsidies to the coal industry began in 1932, when the federal government allowed companies to deduct a portion of their income to help recover initial capital investments (the percentage depletion allowance). Since 1950, the federal government has provided the coal industry with more than $70 billion (in constant 2007 dollars) in tax breaks and subsidies.
And then there are the "externalities"or side effects that are not figured into the price of coal :
As should be obvious by now, fossil fuels come with a hefty bag of externalities. A Harvard Medical School study, published in the Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences and authored by the late Dr. Paul Epstein, found that the extra health and environmental costs of burning coal in the US costs the country up to $500 billion a year, or 9 to 27 cents per kilowatt-hour (kWh) of electricity.
The health externalities were further supported in a study released last week. As the AP reported:
A study from Harvard and Syracuse universities released this week said reducing carbon dioxide from the nation's power plants will save about 3,500 lives a year by cutting back on other types of pollution as well. Much of the benefit would occur in four states that are severely polluted by coal-fired power plants, the study says: Pennsylvania, Ohio, Texas and Illinois. The new regulation would reduce hospitalizations by 1,000 a year and heart attacks by 220 a year, the study says.
But could alternatives compete without subsidies? Here's the New York Times from last November acknowledging the subsidies but suggesting that alternatives can compete with fossil fuels:
The cost of providing electricity from wind and solar power plants has plummeted over the last five years, so much so that in some markets renewable generation is now cheaper than coal or natural gas.
Utility executives say the trend has accelerated this year, with several companies signing contracts, known as power purchase agreements, for solar or wind at prices below that of natural gas, especially in the Great Plains and Southwest, where wind and sunlight are abundant.
Those prices were made possible by generous subsidies that could soon diminish or expire, but recent analyses show that even without those subsidies, alternative energies can often compete with traditional sources. (emphasis is mine)
Of course, the editorial needs to point to China:
As far as strengthening international ties, Obama's offer to slash U.S. air emissions in exchange for a promise China may do something in the future certainly helps relations with Beijing. (emphasis in original)
May? Is the writer deliberately lying to the reader or is he/she that clueless? Google China and CO2 - the world's most polluted country is clearly doing something. Here's Bloomberg Business News:
China’s emissions of carbon dioxide fell last year for the first time in more than a decade, helping stall global production of climate-warming gases. The finding, along with new data from the International Energy Agency, is a sign that efforts to control pollution are gaining traction.
And why is that?
The China results show that the country’s battle to rein in pollution is having a tangible effect. The world’s biggest carbon emitter, has poured money into clean energy sources such as solar, wind and hydro developments, while cutting its dependence on coal.
China led in renewables last year with investments of $89.5 billion, accounting for almost one out of every three dollars spent on clean energy in the world, according to BNEF figures released in January.
Domestic coal production is falling along with consumption.
China’s coal consumption fell 2.9 percent in 2014 from the previous year, the first drop in at least a decade, said Tian Miao, a Beijing-based analyst at North Square Blue Oak Ltd., a research company in London with a focus on China.
The Chinese are investing heavily in renewable energy sources; the Intelligencer would have us reinvest in coal. Which has the more promising future?